LEXINGTON, Ky. — The sounds of trumpet fanfare returned to Keeneland. Horse racing kicked off Friday for the fall season and a big change this season: it’s full capacity, unlike in the spring. 

What You Need To Know

  • Keeneland's 2021 fall meet gets underway this weekend

  • Officials are expecting a crowd of 20,000 people daily

  • This year marks 85 years of racing at the track

  • Keeneland's 17-day fall meet fields include the Fall Stars Weekend Oct. 8-10 that will offer 10 stakes worth $3.65 million

“This is my first time at Keeneland and I’m beyond excited,” said Mark O’Hara, who’s visiting from Florida. 

O’Hara has been looking forward to the 85th annual fall meet.

A group of people tailgated for hours before gates opened to enter Keeneland. (Spectrum News 1/Khyati Patel)

“This is like coming to the cathedral of horse racing. I watched Keeneland on TV for years. There's such a rich history of Keeneland and now to just be here and to see it. I can understand why it's such a magical place,” O’Hara said.

Horse racing isn’t new to O’Hara. He travels to different meets.

Jockeys get ready before the start of the first race. (Spectrum News 1/Khyati Patel)

“My family used to own race horses in the 80s in Buffalo. I’ve just loved horse racing ever since,” O’Hara said. “And now I’ve started traveling around the country and visiting different racetracks.”

The 17-day racing offers 10 stakes worth $3.65 million and officials expect a crowd of 20,000 people daily.

But like everywhere else, Lexington At-Large Councilmember Chuck Ellinger said there are staffing challenges that are limiting capacity.

“So yes, just like everybody they're having issues with obviously with COVID[-19] but the second issue they're having is staffing issues, and they had to limit how many people their capacity that they get it, get in here because of COVID[-19] and also because of getting employees to be able to work,” Ellinger said.

For opening weekend, Ellinger said he’s excited to see a great crowd with a lot of really good energy back at the racetrack.

“So it's affecting everybody, but it is exciting that all the people who have shown up to come watch one of our big events that we have here in Kentucky with it being the horse capital of the world,” Ellinger said.

The fall meet runs through Oct. 30.